Causes of Birth Injuries and Cerebral Palsy

Article provided by Greene, Ketchum, Bailey, Walker, Farrell & Tweel. Please visit our Web site at www.greeneketchum.com.

The birth of a baby is an exciting time for any family. When complications arise and medical intervention becomes necessary, however, birth injuries may occur as a result of a difficult birth or because of the medical techniques used to save the baby's life.

Types of Birth Injuries

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a condition caused by damage to the movement control centers of the brain. CP can arise during pregnancy, but some cases are the result of birth injuries. Cerebral palsy is characterized by abnormal muscle tone, poor reflexes and coordination, and other forms of physical disability. It is hypothesized that those cases that are the result of birth injuries are caused by lack of oxygen or blood to the brain during labor; this is called hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).

HIE occurs due to problems such as a hole in the womb wall, a knot in the umbilical cord, breech birth or an umbilical cord that is wrapped around the baby's neck at birth. These events can deprive the baby's brain of blood and oxygen, causing localized brain damage. The severity of the brain damage after an HIE event depends on the amount of time the baby's brain was deprived of essential resources. It can be the underlying cause of many conditions in addition to cerebral palsy, including mental retardation and problems with sight and hearing.

Another trauma that may arise during birth is a brachial plexus injury such as Erb's Palsy. The brachial plexus is a nerve cluster that begins near the neck and shoulder. It is responsible for controlling the movement of the arm from the shoulder downward. When these nerves are damaged during birth, paralysis or weakness of the arm or hand can result.

A brachial plexus injury usually results from a difficult birth, where the pressure of labor damages the nerves. However, should a baby present with shoulder dystocia — where the shoulders cannot pass through the pelvic bone of the mother during labor — manual delivery or other intervention may become necessary. In a manual delivery, medical staff will maneuver the baby to aid the birth process, and it is during this time that injury to the brachial plexus may occur.

Injury and trauma are not the only problems that may arise in a newborn infant. Group B streptococcus (GBS) infection can lead to complications such as pneumonia, blood poisoning and infection of the brain tissues. As a result of these complications, a small proportion of babies who contract GBS will suffer long-term disability or death. Group B streptococcus is preventable, and hospitals should follow risk-management procedures in order to prevent a newborn baby from contracting the disease.

What to Do if Your Child Has Suffered a Birth Injury

Some injuries and illnesses are immediately apparent, while others may not show symptoms until some time after the birth. In West Virginia, the statute of limitations for birth injuries states that a case must be brought against the medical professionals in question either within two years of the birth or within two years of when the symptoms of a birth injury become apparent.

For this reason, it is essential that parents consult an attorney as soon as they have an indication that their baby may have suffered an avoidable brain injury or neonatal infection. If medical malpractice or negligence is suspected, then the attorney may file a lawsuit against the responsible parties.

In birth injury lawsuits, the baby or child will often be assessed by an independent medical professional to determine the extent of the damage. In addition, the medical staff and the parents will be questioned to help establish the events surrounding the time the injury was incurred.

Although a financial settlement or award can be the outcome of such a lawsuit, it can also offer peace of mind to parents about the precise cause of their child's injury and whether or not it could have been prevented. Additionally, a lawsuit may help the medical institution correct and enforce its procedures so that other families can benefit.